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Devastating fires wreak havoc in the Western Cape Province, South Africa

Updated on January 18, 2017
Raging fire destroyed historical home of Totius, Paarl, Western Province, South Africa, January 2017
Raging fire destroyed historical home of Totius, Paarl, Western Province, South Africa, January 2017 | Source

Wild fires that destroyed hectares of vegetation in the regions of Mossel Bay, George and Outshoorn were hardly killed, when new fires broke out on January 3rd, and this time on Cape Town’s doorstep.

"This year’s fires (in the Western Cape Province) are way more severe than the fires in the Southern Peninsula a few years ago,” said Ian Schnetler, head of Cape Town’s Fire Department.

Since the start of the fire season ground crews and aircraft have suppressed fifty-seven fires, and three months of the fire season are still ahead.

All the fires were started by people, said Cape Town mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith. Investigations are underway to reveal if the intent was malicious.

Witness statements received from residents in the Helderberg area inspired authorities to offer a reward of R 25,000 for information that may lead to the arrest of arsonists.

Inciting destruction of ‘white-owned land’ by the Black First Land First (BLF) movement is also under investigation.

Warning!

Dry, hot conditions during the summer months increase the risk of veld fires during the Western Cape Province's annual fire season from October to March (while storms and heavy flooding are the main threats in winter months [June to August]).

The Western Cape can expect more wild fires due to drought conditions worsened by global climate change, James-Brent Styan, spokesperson for Local Government and Environmental Affairs, MEC Anton Bredell, warned.


South Africa
South Africa
Western Cape, South Africa
Western Cape, South Africa | Source

Destructive fires in the Winelands of the Western Cape Province

Since January 3rd more than 1,000 firefighters have been deployed to battle fires in Somerset West, Simon's Town, Tulbagh, Parrow, and Grabouw, where unusually high winds with gusts of up to 60 miles per hour and exceptionally dry conditions hampered their efforts to control the blazes.

Damages include:

* 4,500 acres of the 7,500-acre Vergelegen wine estate – one of South Africa’s best wineries. The farm was established three-hundred years ago.

* Four holiday huts at the Goudini Spa resort in the Slanghoek Valley. At least 22 people were injured in this fire;

* 5,000 acres - nearly half of the 300-year old Lourensford wine farm in the Helderberg mountain range near Somerset West, including a pine plantation.

* In Paarl - about 60 kilometres (37 mi) northeast of Cape Town – the 225-year old main house, as well as the restaurant, of the luxurious Augusta Kleinbosch guest farm. The house, built in 1792, originally belonged to Jacob Daniël du Toit alias Totius - a prominent poet, writer, and ordained minister of the Reformed Church, who was largely responsible for translating the Bible into Afrikaans. Ref: Totius (1877-1953).

* Also in Paarl, the 300-year old wine farm, Druk-My-Niet. This farm was established in 1692 by Huguenot settler Francois du Toit. Several buildings, including the historic 300-year-old manor house, as well as the wine cellar and virtually all of the vineyards, were destroyed on January 9th. “Thankfully our 2016 wines in barrel are safe,” winemaker and viticulturist Alex McFarlane reported.

* Bezweni Lodge in Somerset West - about 50 kilometres (30 mi) east of Cape Town central city area. “I’ve lost my whole life!” said the owner, Peter Weideman, as his only belongings not destroyed by the fire are the clothes he was wearing and items in his pockets.

Thousands hectares of vegetation were burnt in this region.

Fynbos, the unique vegetation located only in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, has to burn every 12 to 15 years as part of the natural life cycle of the plant. However, it will take years to replace the prime vineyards and orchids that were destroyed in the fires.

Devastating destruction in the Winelands of South Africa

Western Cape, South Africa
Western Cape, South Africa
House of poet Totius built in 1792 completely destroyed on January 9, 2017
House of poet Totius built in 1792 completely destroyed on January 9, 2017 | Source
House of poet Totius built in 1792 completely destroyed on January 9, 2017
House of poet Totius built in 1792 completely destroyed on January 9, 2017 | Source
At Somerset West
At Somerset West
Fire at Somerset West, January 2017
Fire at Somerset West, January 2017 | Source
Bezweni Lodge, Somerset West,  burnt down on January 5, 2017
Bezweni Lodge, Somerset West, burnt down on January 5, 2017
Druk-My-Niet wine farm
Druk-My-Niet wine farm | Source
Source
Goudini Spa resort near Worcester lost four rondavels
Goudini Spa resort near Worcester lost four rondavels

Fires in the Cape Peninula

In Simon's Town, situated in the Cape Peninsula only a cat spit from Cape Town, a fire broke out on Wednesday, January 11th. The raging fire as well as thick grey smoke and ash compelled residents to evacuate the area. Simonstown is home to the South African Navy.

By the time the fire was extinguished, 1600 hectares had been burnt.

On Thursday, January 12th , hundreds of residents were evacuated when fires broke out in Ocean View – previously known as Slangkop.

Simon's Town

Source
Simon's Town, South Africa
Simon's Town, South Africa | Source
Simonstown raging fires, January 2017
Simonstown raging fires, January 2017 | Source
Simonstown raging fires, January 2017
Simonstown raging fires, January 2017 | Source

Ocean View, Cape Town, South Africa

Ocean View, Cape Town, South Africa
Ocean View, Cape Town, South Africa
Source

A blaze broke out on the slopes of Signal Hill on Friday, January 13th evening.

Signal Hill, Cape Town, South Africa

Signal Hill, January 2017
Signal Hill, January 2017 | Source
Martie Coetser
Martie Coetser

Opinion of an owfma-sa

Seeing so much destruction upsets me tremendously. Knowing that fires are 99.9% of the time caused by people is difficult to comprehend in the light of the many fires of the past two weeks. Who in their right mind cannot be hyper-cautious when finding themselves in a region where a fire could be started with a flame as tiny as a fly’s trunk?

Suspecting arson fills me with horror. What kind of mind allows a person to commit arson? Exactly how much ignorance, shortsightedness and malice does it take to start a destructive fire?

If those fires were started with malicious intent, this owfma-sa can but only close her eyes and pray that the people of South Africa – and especially those who are stuck in the past and unable to move forward with a desire to build – be blessed with wisdom in abundance.

By the way, and owfma-sa is an ordinary white female middle-age South African.

Update: More fires deliberately started!

Since I've published this hub on January 15, more fires broke out, and more witnesses came forward, testifying that they saw arsonists deliberately starting fires.

19 New fires on January 17th

Source

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    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 9 months ago from South Africa

      fpherj48 – You may find my reply to bravewarrior’s comment interesting to ponder. The fall of Babylon was sad, the falls of ancient Egypt and Greece were sad, the fall of Rome was sad, the falls of the monarchy in Russia and France were sad, , yet, it had to happen, and it was high time for it to happen. The Big Wheel will forever keep on turning; what we sow today will be reaped in the future.

      Many of those farmers in the Western Cape – or perhaps not enough of them – are now giving shares to their workers, involving them in the management of the farms, and allowing them to share in the profits. This is what should have happened from the beginning. But you know Capitalism is a devil of another color. Let’s hope that wisdom will rein while this time bomb gets defused.

    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 9 months ago from South Africa

      bravewarrior – The answer lies in the political agenda behind all of this, and in the ignorance of uneducated and misinformed rebels who are eager to grab any opportunity to wreak havoc. But you know the history of mankind, dear Sha. The rise of those who were left behind and the fall of those who have reached a higher level of existence at the cost of those who were left behind always happen at the same time. This is how Nature allows a steady and balanced development. This is only my perspective on the entire issue.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 9 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Outrageous, Martie....just simply outrageous. I am so sad and concerned for all of you experiencing such devastating ruin at the hands of malicious individuals. Martie, please tell me friend...has the world gone completely insane? It is a struggle to keep from being in a continual state of fear.

      We all must maintain our own peace within and support one another as we wrestle with all these evils that use such violence & hatred to make selfish angry statements for all the world to see.

      Know that those who love you Martie, keep you & your beautiful country in our minds & hearts. You & yours stay safe my friend! Hugs, Paula

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 9 months ago from Central Florida

      Martie, the devastation is so sad and avoidable. Why would anyone deliberately put people's lives at stake? Not to mention the wildlife and landscape. Don't they know how precious life is?????

    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 9 months ago from South Africa

      FlourishAnyway – My heart goes out to each and every one who has lost assets in this fire. Although I know this world will always have hooligans and evil-doers, I hope with all my heart that they will soon become extinct. Amen to your wishes.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 9 months ago from USA

      How especially sad and disappointing that there was malintent behind these devastating fires that caused so much destruction. I understand the empty feeling of a house fire and truly wish healing for those affected.

    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 10 months ago from South Africa

      AliciaC – The 16th Century mentality of these left-wingers is truly deplorable. "If they can't have it, nobody will have it." They don’t realize the consequences of their actions. No insight, no vision, no common sense. They are destructive, like fire.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Fires are always sad, but they are especially so when they're started by humans. It's horrible to see someone's home or livelihood destroyed. The thought of fires bring deliberately set is frightening. Thanks again for sharing the news from South Africa, Martie.

    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 10 months ago from South Africa

      Genna East – Check my update. 19 new fires were started yesterday, and arsonists were seen by witnesses. This seems to be a political motivated disaster organized by people who are mentally stuck in the 16th Century. Your prayers and good wishes are greatly appreciated, thank you, Genna!

    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 10 months ago from South Africa

      MsDora – Let’s not forget the loss of employment. Vineyards, fruit trees, olive trees, etc., take years to reach maturity. Thousands of people are going to be unemployed for a very long time. Thank you for your prayers, dear MsDora!

      PS: I have added an update. More fires have been started on purpose according to witnesses.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 10 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Fifty-seven fires? That is beyond devastating, Martie...it's horrific. And to think they were all started by people. Drought conditions have definitely played a hand as well. I shudder whenever I hear, "Climate change is a hoax." What PLANET are these people on? Certainly not ours. Your before and after photos tell the story that these naysayers and pyro nuts need to live, firsthand. My thoughts, prayers and good wishes go out to you all.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 10 months ago from The Caribbean

      Happy that there are no deaths reported, but lives are altered for the worse. To watch the destruction of history and architecture, businesses and belongings is grievous. Praying for your safety, Martie.

    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 10 months ago from South Africa

      marcoujor – the house of my previous assistant burnt down to the ground some weeks ago, so, I know too well that disasters have no eyes with apples in them. The majority of SA’s people lack wisdom and insight!

    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 10 months ago from South Africa

      always exploring – you know, I hope with all my heart that the fires were not deliberately made, and that we only need to ask people to be more careful. I am so tired of hating evil people.

    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 10 months ago from South Africa

      billybuc – The child (el nino) in the universe seems to be throwing all his toys out of his cot. Crazy! And just the other day we had the most horrible floods! Stay safe, billybuc!

    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 10 months ago from South Africa

      sallybea – heartbreaking is the world! Losing those historical buildings is painful. Honestly, coming to terms with losses is not easy. At least not for me.

    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 10 months ago from South Africa

      mckbirdbks – Considering the number of people on this planet, and the fact that we don’t even have peace all of the time in a home occupied by only two souls, we might as well stop wasting our energy by longing for peace. Rather use it towards our efforts to stay safe. Can’t help but thinking of Rome that was burnt to the ground, and so many other cities/towns/regions, and now Aleppo, bomb to the ground. Too many tragedies caused by people! Let me go smell a rose…

    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 10 months ago from South Africa

      MD Shakil Miya – I would not use the word “nice” to describe even the reporting of such destruction!?! However, it was nice of you to leave a comment.

    • MartieCoetser profile image
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      Martie Coetser 10 months ago from South Africa

      Jodah – Until now no deaths have been reported and only 22 injured. Among the injured are mostly those who have inhaled too much of the smoke. As far as I know the fires are now under control. Touch wood! Fires and floods remind us time and again that we, humans, are not the most powerful creatures on this planet. Always good to hear from you, Jodah!

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 10 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      The thought of arson is horrific - especially considering the trauma and loss the victims of this crime suffer.

      Great reporting of a 'not so great' subject, dear Martie.

      Promise to keep you and yours safe. Love you much, mar

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 10 months ago from Southern Illinois

      This is heartbreaking news amid the turmoil that exists in your beautiful homeland. political upheaval is ramped all over the world. What a shame to destroy old beautiful homes. Hopefully, if it was arson, they will be caught and punished. Stay safe my friend.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 10 months ago from Olympia, WA

      How terrible! My best wishes go out to all of you down there...meanwhile we have record-breaking cold and winter storms....something is out of whack in the universe, my friend.

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 10 months ago from Norfolk

      How heartbreaking! I cannot perceive of people deliberately setting fires. How awful to think that lives as well as historic buildings are being targeted by people whose intention is to kill and to destroy. My heart bleeds for South Africa and it's people. When will they ever learn?

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 10 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Seems people are angry all of the world Martie. bs owfma-sa The bs stands for be safe.

      What is it going to take to get people living peaceful lives again?

    • MD Shakil Miya profile image

      MD Shakil Miya 10 months ago

      nice

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 10 months ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      Thank you so much for this excellent article about the fires near us. We drove past yesterday on the way to the beach and the black burned vegetation looks very sad. I will share it.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 10 months ago from Queensland Australia

      The extent of these fires and that most were deliberately started is shocking, Martie. The fact that 200 and 300 year old houses and vineyards etc have been destroyed is terrible and so many injured or killed. Here in Australia, we have had some devastating fires in recent years but so far this year there have not been as many. Thank you for sharing and for all the photos and maps as well. I pray the firefighters get the current fires under control and there are no more to follow.